Side effects and safety issues.
Xylitol sugar can be used at the table or in the kitchen.
There should be little concern about safety issues for those who want to consume xylitol as a preventive for tooth decay.
It's a naturally occurring compound.
- Xylitol is found naturally in a number of fruits and vegetables (including strawberries, raspberries, pears, cauliflower and plums).
- The human body produces between 5 and 15 grams of xylitol each day as it metabolizes carbohydrates. (It's an intermediate compound in the glucuronate-xyulose metabolic pathway.)
- When manufactured, the starting agricultural product is usually birch trees or corn cobs.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies it and has approved its use as a "food additive" (1963).
- In packaging and advertising, the FDA allows manufacturers to make the claim that xylitol products "do not promote dental caries."
- Worldwide, it's been approved for use in foods, pharmaceuticals, and oral health products in more than 35 countries.
- The World Health Organization’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives and the European Union’s Scientific Committee for Food have both approved its use.
Makinen (1976) studied the effects of xylitol consumption on fifty-two humans over a two-year period. On average, members of this test group consumed 1.5 kg of xylitol per month, which averages out to roughly fifty grams per day (over four times the maximum adult daily dosing suggested for preventing tooth decay).
No ill effects were found, with the exception of the minor/manageable side effects discussed in our next paragraph.
Gastrointestinal side effects.
If there's an area of concern, it's one related to gastrointestinal side effects. Xylitol is digested slowly in the large intestine and ingesting comparative large amounts of it can create a laxative effect (soft stools or even diarrhea).
It usually only creates gastrointestinal problems when it's consumed at levels that approach fifty grams per day (over 5 times what most adults need for cavity prevention). At lower levels, lesser difficulties may be experienced such as flatulence, minor stomach cramps or nausea.
The incidence of these symptoms will vary with each individual and are typically dose-size related. A reduction in either per-serving or daily-dosing amounts usually provides a remedy. Other solutions can be to get a greater portion of your xylitol exposure from sources that can be spit out (mouth rinse, toothpaste) or, if necessary, cease your xylitol consumption all together.
Toxicity to pets.
In 2006 the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center issued a press release warning of potentially serious or even life-threatening problems caused by the ingestion of xylitol-sweetened products by dogs (due to the hypoglycemic effect it can produce). More recently, there has been a report that xylitol may create this same ill effect with ferrets.
For this reason, it's recommended that all pet owners should always remain vigilant in their efforts to keep xylitol products out of the reach of their animals.
Medical uses of xylitol.
Because xylitol is absorbed more slowly than sucrose (table sugar), it does not contribute of elevated blood sugar levels and the associated hyperglycemia caused by an insufficient insulin response. It's glycemic index is 7.
Some research suggests that xylitol consumption may help to increase bone density. If so, some day it may have a use as a treatment for osteoporosis.
Ear and upper respiratory infections
Xylitol may be an aid in preventing ear infections (acute otitis media), by way of having an inhibitory effect on the bacteria that cause this condition.